Studio: American Public Media
What It Is
Garrison Keillor tells a tale of the strange Midwestern residents of the small town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota.
Garrison Keillor heads up a weekly radio show called A Prairie Home Companion. The show has been airing in one form or another since 1974; the show is aired live for two hours every weekend currently, either from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, or from another theater across the United States during one of the show’s frequent national tours. The show consists of various skits, live music from a variety of artists, guest appearances by celebrities and always closes with Keillor telling a story about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon. Due to the musical performances and issues with licensing, the radio show is not released as a podcast, except for Keillor’s closing story. A new episode of this podcast drops every week; episodes are typically between ten and fifteen minutes long. The iTunes archive goes back to 2010 and features over two hundred episodes.
What About It
So, over the decades, Keillor has become an American institution. He’s certainly a completely unique figure, running a radio variety show decades after the idea of a radio variety show went the way of the dodo, if it ever really existed at all. The best thing about the show, which I rarely listen to, is the fantastic music, rootsy, folksy, jazzy, gospel instrumentals and songs from guests that span the spectrum of stardom. I find a lot of the humor to be pretty corny, probably purposely so in an effort to capture a nostalgic feeling. Keillor is an interesting figure; he seems endlessly creative, producing books, CDs, the show and a film based on the radio show directed by no less a light than Robert Altman. I love Keillor for his strange uniqueness and the wonderful sound and cadence of his voice, which evokes peace almost instantly upon being heard. We talked a bit about that when we discussed The Writer’s Almanac. When the Lake Wobegon stories are good, they are very, very great. There are stories that really do cross over from being about the residents of Lake Wobegon and their everyday struggles to being about a deeply profound and evocative truth about life. One of my all-time favorites is a strange story that has haunted me for years now, a simple story about the way a man’s grandchildren play havoc with the system of storing car parts in his garage. It mutates into a tale of a tragedy that happened years before and then into an odd ghost story and it took me a couple of listens to really understand everything going on under the surface and all the connections Keillor was making. Moments from that story have stayed with me in an unbelievably vivid way. The stories rarely ascend to this height, in my opinion, which is understandable, I suppose, when you realize that Keillor turns out a new story every week. I’d love to be able to know if each episode was going to be a transcendent emotional experience or a waste of time, but unfortunately there’s no way to know that except to listen to it. I listen to it sometimes, but not exactly often; I probably haven’t heard an episode in a couple of years now. It’s a podcast I admire more than I love, which kind of mirrors the way I feel about Keillor himself. It’s probably required, as an American, to listen to a few episodes of this bit of rural Americana. Whether you want to prioritize listening after those few requisite episodes is up to you.
You think the only thing that could make Mark Twain’s stories better is if they were about half as good and read aloud to a live audience.
Avoid Like the Plague If
You still call the Midwest “flyover country.”
Best Entry Point
Well, like I say, it’s hard to know. The episode I talked about above is no longer available online, sadly. Try it out by grabbing the most recent few from the archive.
2 stars. Average.
Next time, another podcast from 5by5, home of Back to Work. Will this one be as great as that one? Hmm . . . no spoilers, but no.